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U.S. saw fewest April tornadoes since 2000

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/3/2021 Matthew Cappucci
clouds in the sky: A second, dusty tornado spins near Lockett, Tex.. (Matthew Cappucci) A second, dusty tornado spins near Lockett, Tex.. (Matthew Cappucci)

After the busiest March on record for tornadoes in Alabama, April proved the most quiet for twisters nationwide since at least 2000. A preliminary count suggests only 73 tornadoes touched down throughout the month, coming at a time when tornado activity is usually ramping up as the spring severe weather season approaches its peak.

The 73 tornadoes that touched down make up less than half the April average of 155 that ordinarily swirl through the Plains, South and Southeast.

Meteorologists only received half as many severe weather reports as is typical, according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.

Severe weather threatens millions in Plains and South after damaging tornadoes in Mississippi, Georgia

The quiet month marked a major contrast from last April when some 271 tornadoes were logged, the second most on record. Only April 2011, which featured an unprecedented 757 tornadoes, had more. They included those during the infamous April 27, 2011, outbreak, part of a multiday stretch with 358 tornadoes, the largest outbreak in recorded history.

map: A map of where tornadoes occurred in April. (NOAA/SPC) A map of where tornadoes occurred in April. (NOAA/SPC)

Contributing to this year’s comparatively tame April was a jet stream pattern unfavorable for widespread severe weather and storms. The jet stream frequently dipped south across the Eastern United States, allowing cool, dry air to spill down from Canada as cold fronts crashed all the way to the Gulf Coast. That kept most of the instability necessary for strong thunderstorms offshore.

Toward the end of the month, a stormier pattern began — starting on April 23, when five picturesque tornadoes danced over largely open plains in north Texas near the Oklahoma border. Storm chasers far and wide flocked to open fields near Lockett, Tex., south of the Red River, to watch the tall funnels dance simultaneously with rainbows and a bombardment of large, destructive hail.

The month also included a billion-dollar hail disaster that occurred when a trio of rotating supercell thunderstorms brought baseball-sized hail or larger to San Antonio, Fort Worth and the suburbs of Oklahoma City at the same time on April 28.

Destructive hail bombards areas near Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and San Antonio Giant hail punched through roofs in Sabinal, Tex.. (Twitter @vortexrfd) Giant hail punched through roofs in Sabinal, Tex.. (Twitter @vortexrfd)

During the month, the Storm Prediction Center only issued 17 tornado watches, the fourth fewest on record. Last year, 40 tornado watches were issued, including two “particularly dangerous situation” (PDS) watches, reserved for the most serious tornado situations. Approximately 140 tornadoes were confirmed during the most prolific outbreak that occurred on Easter — April 12, 2020 — as well as the following Monday. One tornado near Bassfield, Laurel and Soso, Miss., northwest of Hattiesburg, grew to 2.25 miles wide — the third-biggest tornado on record nationwide.

Last May, meanwhile, was anomalously quiet — with 139 tornadoes, the month turned out roughly half as active as usual. Significant (EF2 or greater) tornadoes were absent from the Plains the entire month. May 2020 had the least number of significant tornadoes on record since at least 1970.

This year, meanwhile, the opposite appears likely — after a quiet April, May has already gotten off to a roaring start. A slew of tornadoes slammed parts of the Deep South and Southeast on Sunday evening and into Monday, causing damage near Yazoo City and in Tupelo, Miss., and prompting tornado warnings around Atlanta and Charlotte.

Two mile wide Mississippi tornado was state's largest on record

A glance ahead at the upcoming weather pattern suggests more tornadoes could be in the offing. A severe weather risk was growing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex on Monday, with storms expected Tuesday and Wednesday across the South and Southeast once again.

The weather pattern could also prove increasingly favorable for severe storm development by the start of next week.

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